Four thousand firefighters, 125 aircraft and 350 Montana National Guard troops battled 40 wildfires this summer that scorched 655,171 acres with 23 still actively consuming land statewide.
According to InciWeb, the most destructive of these was the Lolo Peak Fire which claimed two lives and burned 39,719 acres.
The Lodgepole Complex Fire was the largest of the summer coming in at 270,723 acres.
The longest burning was the Tongue River Complex. It began in early July and burned just under 29,000 acres and is still listed as active on Inciweb, the federal website for fire information.
This fire season has been compounded by a lack of rainfall. August was nearly the driest on record, creating an extremely dangerous situation.
In a recent bulletin sent out by state agencies to local government agencies and the public, authorities warned the upcoming holiday weekend has the potential for new fires and “extreme fire behavior.”
“Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday may have significant fire behavior activity with warm temperatures, low humidity, and moderate to strong gusty winds with a wind shift creating potentially critical fire conditions,” the bulletin states.
In a situation report, authorities listed these conditions:
– Numerous large and uncontained fires are burning throughout the entire state.
– Warm temperatures Thursday, Friday and Saturday with strong winds.
– Friday afternoon may have the most critical weather conditions.
With warm temperatures forecasted, windy weather and no rain in sight, fire season is not ending any time soon.
Conditions are ripe for more flames and one official said residents have a responsibility to avoid sparking new wildfires.
Al Nash, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, encouraged Labor Day recreators and hunters to take extra caution during the long weekend.
Nash advised Montanans to check weather and fire conditions before going out, stay on roadways and do not park in grass.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock also warned about the risk of more fires at a press conference Thursday.
“This Labor Day weekend and until conditions improve we are asking for your continued support for our wildland firefighters, the communities and businesses impacted by the fires, and above all else, we’re certainly asking you to take every precaution to avoid creating new fires,” Bullock said.
Fire officials announced Tuesday a ban on all campfires beginning Saturday morning 12:01 a.m. across 21 counties in Central Montana from Beaverhead north to the Canadian border.
Tri-Lakes Fire Chief Bob Drake also expressed his concern.
Conditions “are worse now than I have ever seen them,” he said. “The probability of ignition is almost a hundred percent. If you get a spark, if you get a lightning strike it’s gonna start.”
North Dakota, Washington and other neighboring states are prepared to send resources if fire conditions in Montana continue to worsen.